When I first saw the small object noisily lumbering up the road toward Milhaud pier, I laughed inside.
How could the Germans expect to take me with that little thing?
My skeleton crew is working feverishly to plant explosives throughout my body. Grenades are being placed at strategic points in my machinery. Fused charges are being lowered into my turret maga-zines. My sea cocks are also being opened to the water of Toulon harbor.
That puny steel vehicle rushing at me with all the speed and grandeur it can muster is comical in comparison.
From the human scale, that little Panzer IV tank with its 75mm gun must command respect. From the scale of my majestic size and ample allowance of 330mm guns, I am just not impressed.
The hatch on the top of the tank opens as the gnat pulls up on my port side along the pier.
“Surrender the ship,” the commander of the tank calls out in German.
Admiral Jean de Laborde, Commander in Chief of the High Seas Fleet, ordered all of the fleet’s captains to “SCUTTLE! SCUTTLE! SCUTTLE!” early this morning when intelligence came that Ger-man armored units were heading toward the harbor. The Germans entered the Free Zone of Vichy France, today in response to the Allied invasion of North Africa.
November 27, 1942, marks the end of any illusion that France is free.
Admiral de Laborde replies, “You will not take this ship.”
The tank’s commander orders his crew to fire their puny gun.
Machine gunners atop my multiple decks open up on the armored pest sitting along my side.
I could kill that pesky gnat, if only I could lower my anti-aircraft guns.
Urgh, one shot from my main guns would swipe him, and half the block he’s on, away from the world for good. .
The tank's 75mm gun rips a hole in turret 2, wounding six sailors and killing Lieutenant Frinage, who had been in charge of demolition of that turret. The Germans helped the Lieutenant complete his task when they killed him. That turret is no longer useful.
That gnat has a nasty bite.
I could tear you to shreds you little fleck!
At this senseless loss of life, Admiral de Laborde orders the machine gunners to stop firing.
We’re not going to fight this little piss-ant?
Explosions begin convulsing my hull. Turret 1, 3, and 4 explode in a swarm of jagged steel as the magazines in each are strewn asunder with their own stored gunpowder.
My machine room and engines are blown away with well-placed grenades, rendering me dead in the water.
My sea cocks are released, allowing water to flow into my lower decks. My keel settles all of my 26,500 tons upon the floor of Toulon harbor. I am to sail no more.
That pesky little tank still sits there, gun aimed at me, its commander screaming at his crew be-cause they failed to capture me intact.
I wish I could have just swiped you away you Nazi toy.
My guns are no longer operable. I can no longer sail. I cannot even propel myself or leave the floor of the harbor.
My only reprieve is that it is my crew that ended my career rather than surrendering what was once an awesome and awe inspiring destructive capability to our country’s occupiers.
On November 27, 1942, the Germans responded to the Allied invasion of North Africa by occupying what was left of Vichy France. Of particular interest to the Germans, the French Fleet was ordered scuttled (destroyed by its own men), rather than fall into German and Italian hands. The Germans rushed to the port facilities, hoping to take some of the ships, particularly the Strasbourg intact. In one of the strangest engagements of the war, a German tank raced to the ship, turned its gun on the battleship, and forced the crew of the mighty war machine to surrender. The French crew, though, destroyed the ship be-fore the Germans could board, rendering the hulk useless to the Axis.